Sunday, December 12, 2010

It's a Miracle

Last night, I watched B walk over to the freezer, which contained 4 kinds of ice cream. He opened it up, took out a pint of Ben & Jerry’s that I knew wasn’t his true first choice, closed the freezer and walked away. I laughed and said, “Honey? Did you take that over the Peanut Brittle because that was what was open?”

He replied, “Of course.”

I laughed again and thought about how I’ve never chosen anything without at least a few moments of consideration. His ice cream selection was a perfect example of how insanely different the two sexes are. It never ceases to amaze me that we manage to co-exist, procreate, and stay in long term relationships when our bodies and brains operate in completely different ways. I started to think about all the ways in which men and women think and behave differently...

Men make meal choices based on proximity, ease of access and taste. Similarly, they often choose women that way. Women, on the other hand select food (and men) based on what we’re in the mood for, feels right, smells good, requires a little extra work and won’t make us feel too guilty after the fact.

Women tend to do things in anticipation of a desired result or perceived benefit. Men most often just “do.”

A man loves a woman for what she is. A woman loves a man for what he can be when he grows up.

Women overcomplicate emotional matters. Men overcomplicate logistics. (A map or stop and ask for directions? Insane! Use the manufacturer’s directions to assemble that doll house? Never!)

Crazy is exciting to a lot of women. Crazy is just crazy to men.\

Women fall in love almost as quickly and easily as men fall out of love.

You hand a woman another drink at Happy Hour and while thinking of everything she must do between that moment and tomorrow morning, she says, “Oh, no thanks. I really should go.”

You hand a man another drink at Happy Hour and while thinking how good that beer will taste, he says ‘Thanks!”

When sports or a favorite show is on TV, men hear nothing else around them. Women are almost always listening. Creepy, I know.

Horror films give some women nightmares. Movies like Revolutionary Road give most men nightmares.

Men see a “red flag” and run. Most women see a “red flag” and dig their claws in deeper while convincing themselves the issue will go away.

Women often wonder when their partner will start to open up more, start talking. Men wonder when we’ll stop talking so much.

Men memorize all the funny lines of their favorite movies and can watch them over and over and over again. And then a few more times. Women remember the clothes and the romance – and we’re usually all set after 2-3 viewings.

When we're young, its not uncommon for women to create entire relationships in our heads. Men create elaborate fantasies.

Men fall in love with what they see and touch and hear. Women fall in love with dreams and ideas.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Speak Up

The locker room at Bar Method was particularly stuffy Friday morning, and I didn’t feel like fighting ten ½ naked women for a spot in front of a steamy mirror, only to break a sweat again post shower. So I threw on a lovely periwinkle silk shell, black gold-button-cardigan, slacks and pearls and headed to work to finish my makeup. I can imagine that in contrast to my prim and proper attire my makeup-free, pale, uneven-toned face was decidedly undressed. I didn’t think anything of it, but apparently a few of the women I passed did. Three women looked me up and down and then stared at my face for a moment, as if confused or concerned. A fourth woman, who happened to be arguing with her significant other on her cell phone in a venomous tone, crinkled her nose as if I was a terribly disappointing sight. I wanted to turn around and say “HEY! Miserable b8tch! You don’t have to be rude and mean to strangers because you’re unhappy. Sounds like you’re doing enough damage in your own life!” Of course I kept my mouth shut and kept walking. But I did think about how good it would feel to say what I was thinking without filtering my words carefully – even for one week. If you could say what you were thinking without dire consequence for 1 week, what would you say? Under what circumstances would you open your mouth where you had kept it shut before?

I can think of a few.

First, I would let a few homeless people have it.

It’s obvious that San Francisco’s Financial District homeless contingent learned long ago that manipulating consumers’ guilt complexes is far more lucrative when their target is holding an overpriced double half caff extra dry soy cappuccino. Walk around San Francisco’s Financial District for 10 minutes and you’ll notice that because there’s at least 1 Starbucks or Pete’s on every block, there is at least 1 homeless pan-handler on every block. I pass about 5 of these guys on an average walk to work and have been doing so for about 5 years now. Until a few months ago however, I was ignorant to the fact that as a regular passerby, I would eventually be labeled as an angel of mercy or an oppressive she-devil.

One morning, completely unprovoked and totally out of the blue, a homeless woman at the Starbucks on the corner of Battery and Pine called after me, “N***er-hating white b8tch.”

I thought “Wow. Lovely way to start the day, Thank you!” I buried the sarcasm and walked on towards work, mumbling quietly, “Yeah, because it always has to be about race.” What I really wanted to say was, “What a load of crap. Can’t you come up with anything better? Oh that’s right - you can’t because you’re drunk at 7 in the morning. Have you ever thought that maybe no one wants to give you money because you’re mean, aggressive and you smell like death? Did you ever consider that maybe if you’re going to ask for something while offering society nothing in return, the least you could do is be polite and gracious; maybe come up with a creative sign or a way to make people laugh; or I don’t know- get crazy and sing a song or play an instrument?”

And then there’s the homeless guy who sits on a box next to his overflowing shopping cart 3 feet from the entrance to the Walgreen's closest to my office. The pungent odors of stale urine and rotting toenails surrounds his shopping cart, so I rush in and out of the store as quickly as I can - as most people with a sense of smell would do. I guess he has a think for repulsed women in a hurry, because he has actually asked me out on a date on a few occasions. When I don’t acknowledge his advances, he’s been known to say, “What - you can’t even look at me because I’m homeless? B8tch.”

Someday, I will walk back over to him and say “No, it has nothing to do with you being homeless and everything to do with your personal hygiene. I can’t go on a date with you because the length, color and foreign matter under your toenails might make me vomit into my wine glass. And I would not want to mislead you by accepting your offer because I simply don’t bother with lazy men. If you’re too lazy to stand up and pee anywhere but all over yourself, how can I trust you’ll ever put enough effort into courting a girl properly? And I’ve had a boyfriend for 5 years. But consider sobriety, a shower, and a job– the single ladies out there eat those kinds of things up.”

Next, I might be a little more vocal about people who impede the enjoyment of experiences I pay good money for.

About 3 minutes into last Wednesday’s yoga class, I noticed the same “stinky feet” odor I noticed the week before. With the first three-legged dog pose, I noticed it was the same foot, the same woman, the same exact smell as last week. I turned to my girlfriend and she winced at me – indicating she smelled it too. How could she not have? It was strong in three-legged dog, pungent by the time we got to revolved half moon and plain old overwhelming once we got to pigeon. After class, L and I chatted about the need for a little Dr Scholl’s Odor Eater as the teacher approached. A beautiful, elegant, gentle looking creature, we didn’t quite expect her to ask, “Did you girls notice that strong smell back here?”

We both exclaimed “YES!” and she looked concerned.

“Did it disturb your practice? Was it a problem for you?”

We both adore the teacher and couldn’t bear to tell her that yes, it made us both gag for at least ½ the class. Instead we said, “It wasn’t that bad. We got used to it.”

What I wanted to say was, “Well, I found myself focusing more on trying not to pass out from the stench than on finding my center. I think I did throw up a little in my mouth when her foot was an arm’s length away. I wanted to slap her foot away. I wish someone would just hand her some foot deodorant and run.”

There are so many situations in which I wish I could be more honest, places where I’d love to stop holding back so much. (Work, when people fart in Bar Method, on the bus when I get pushed around like a Raggedy Anne doll, when waitresses and waiters are rude and act like they are doing you a favor, I could go on and on and on.) But what about you? When would you love to pipe up? To whom would you love to give a piece of your mind?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Dirty Little Secret

My best friend recently told me about an article she read in Self magazine that claims 75% of women “eat, think and behave abnormally around food.” The moment I heard that quote was the first time I even considered that there might be a lot of women out there like me - women who aren’t quite “normal” about food but aren’t severely disordered eaters either. Floating somewhere in between the two classifications meant my relationship with food was a sizeable source of stress and depression from the age of ten right on through my early twenties. I had no idea there was anyone else out there hiding the same kind of skeletons (or Fruit Roll-Ups) in their closets.

I grew up knowing I was fat and knowing it was my own damn fault. Not having the willpower to lose weight and win a war with what I thought should have been an insignificant demon became increasingly shameful. When you’re 10 and you’re the only kid to weigh more than your teacher, you naturally assume you’re the only one who’s having a secret love affair with Twix bars. So you eat them when no one’s around and you don’t openly discuss how much you look forward to your date with those crunchy cookie-candy delights after school. As an adolescent with a freakishly large chest (mostly attributed to being overweight,) you don’t ask the girls at your sleepover if they worry about being too fat as they pull your bra out of the freezer. When you’re a teenager and you don’t see any of your 100 pound friends eating big bowls of ice cream after dinner, you’re pretty sure you’re the only gal in the group who has a hard time fighting the urge to eat a gallon of mint chip at a time. You don’t talk about how hard it is to love everything a girl like you shouldn’t have and definitely doesn’t need during 90210 commercial breaks. Before you know it, you’re 25 and you think you’ve changed until you realize you’re too uncomfortable to eat that second cookie in front of the love of your life, so you wait until he gets into the shower go back for one more.

When I moved out to California at the age of 23, I had managed to wildly complicate one of the few things in life that can and should be beautifully simple. By that time, I had long since decided it was beyond pathetic to toil over my relationship with food. I knew people would pay to trade real ailments or far bigger mountains for my silly little molehill. I knew I was smarter and better than waging war against myself over and over again. I knew I ultimately would have the make the choice to be kinder to myself and my body. By 23, I still couldn’t ever do that for more than a month or two at a time. There were often glimpses of hope throughout college, mostly thanks to a shockingly accepting group of women, but then it seemed to be only a matter of time before I slipped back into old habits. As a grown woman, that inability to change was just another thing to feel guilty about and another reason to keep most of what I was going through to myself. It was embarrassing enough to be so caught up in weight, body image and food issues, but being so utterly predictable was terribly shameful to me. The more ashamed I was, the more I tried to control myself. The more I tried to control myself, the more I lost control. The more I lost control, the more I felt I needed to punish myself for it. The longer I was wrapped up in this cycle, the more I kept the details to myself.

When I met B and fell in love with him, for the first time in my life I started thinking about someday being a wife and mother. I wanted to be able to build a happy, balanced life with him; I knew if I was ever going to do that, I needed to do some re-building of my own. I went back to a therapist and started educating myself about ways to reframe my relationship with food and change my patterns of thinking. As the cliché saying goes, I started focusing more on the solutions and less on the problems. I realize now that as a child, I spent too much time feeling sorry for myself. When I was a teenager, I didn’t try hard enough with diet or exercise. And once a young woman, I didn’t fight like I meant it. Falling in love left little room for self-indulgence and self-pity. B’s passion for life left little time for lethargy. A man like him makes you want to fight harder for a lot of things.

I’ve spent the past 5 years of my life learning to see food as a source of nutrition, life and joy. Some days are easier than others. Most days are a bit of a challenge to some degree, because slipping into old habits in the face of stress, sadness or pressure is easy. I’ve broadened my horizons and learned to love different kinds of foods for different reasons. I allow myself a little something sweet every day, but try to stick with fruit or “guilt free” options during the week. I’ve come to appreciate the beautiful colors, textures and smells of a farmers market or kitchen counter covered with fresh and healthy ingredients waiting to be chopped, sliced and combined. I’ve found joy in creating something delicious and nourishing for my B with my own hands and a little creativity.

I’m still very apprehensive of eating too much and gaining weight though. I eat as many vegetables as I can every day, because it’s the one food group I enjoy and feel no guilt for consuming. I have a tough time stepping out of my comfort zone – which is characterized by a pretty controlled diet and some “get out of jail free cards” on the weekends. I probably pay too much attention to proper serving sizes, nutrient density, replacement options and health benefits. I have to remind myself not to put excessive thought or time into ensuring meals are well balanced with lean protein, vegetables, whole grains and vitamins and minerals. I often count calories in my head or on a sticky pad. I don’t stress as much as I used to about too many nights out at San Francisco’s wonderful restaurants- but I shoot for small portions of everything and even then, dining out seldom goes unpunished. (I add extra workouts into my already pretty rigorous routine for pizza, cheeseburgers, decadent deserts.) I often check menus online to identify healthy choices ahead of time too. I still catch myself saving up for things like vacations or Thanksgiving (banking.) I don’t like being put into situations where I have little to no healthy choices (French prix fix, weddings, company parties,) and dread being put into situations where I LOVE all the unhealthy choices (anytime cupcakes or champagne refills are free flowing.) I still feel a little self-conscious admitting the aforementioned, because as far as I have come in 5 years, it’s clearly not quite far enough.

When I look around at dinner parties, in restaurants, at work – women of all shapes and sizes seem to be so casual about making meal choices and enjoying what’s put in front of them. I’ve never noticed friends looking anxiously at menus for guilt-free options or taking pause to tally calories consumed plus approximate calories in a menu selection. I’ve never seen the same disappointed expressions on my sisters’ faces after they’ve eaten a few too many bites of that chocolate cake. I’ve always doubted my colleagues dread business lunches at steak houses because they’re anticipating necessary counteraction to a heavy meal. So you tell me. Are there a lot of women out there like me?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Identity Crisis

A few months ago, a friend and mentor asked why I don’t use my name or have any pictures of myself on my blog. I explained that doing so would make me feel too exposed; that I don’t like the idea of revealing too many of those everyday personal details, because I don’t like the idea of developing a persona that can be picked apart. If I share my stories and struggles without revealing who I am, I am insulated by anonymity.

He challenged me to think about it from another angle. He explained that people need to see a writer who writes about “real life” as a “real person.” If they can’t do that, they can’t easily connect with the author or truly identify with her. He asked me to consider that my messages might not be as powerful or helpful when delivered by an anonymous woman.

This past weekend, I was reminded of conversation when a friend was complimenting my blog and applauded me for having the courage to “put myself out there.”

As soon as he spoke of courage, I realized remaining anonymous and telling hardly anyone about my blog is far from courageous. If anything - in light of the fact that I challenge women to be more honest, transparent, and forthcoming - I’m being a bit hypocritical.

So, who am I?

  • I am a writer.
  • I am a strong woman.
  • I am a weak woman.
  • I am a good sister, daughter, friend and lover. I wonder sometimes if I am tough enough to be a good mother.
  • I was born in Ireland, raised in Connecticut, went to college in Boston and now live in San Francisco.
  • I am 28 years old.
  • I put too much thought and energy into everything I do.
  • One of my absolute favorite things to do is read in bed next to B when he’s reading something funny, the room dimly lit by lamps, dark brown curtains drawn with the breeze poking through, down covers pulled up under my chin, bed shaking occasionally from his guttural chuckles. His laugh makes me warm.
  • I can be judgmental and a harsh critic and I’m selectively compassionate – but I work on those faults every day.
  • I operate at 90 mph for months at a time until I’ve got nothing left and then crash and operate on autopilot for a few days.
  • My idea of a perfect (dream) daily routine: wake up after 8 hours of sleep, eat some steel cut oatmeal in my sunny living room while reading the newspaper or catching up with family over the phone, head off to a vinyasa yoga or Bar Method class, stop at the farmers market on the way home, write and work on my website for 6 hours, experiment with a new recipe with B or try a new restaurant with friends, write for a few more hours, finish the day with some quality time with B.
  • People are what make me feel whole, fulfilled. I think life is all about the people you share it with. I get to share mine with a wonderful man who has a huge heart; two amazing sisters; very loving parents; a kind, accepting best friend, and some very remarkable people from my childhood, college years and life in San Francisco.
  • Exercise is what keeps me sane. I start to go a little crazy if I don’t work out at least 4 times/week. I cry more; lose my temper more and I’m not nearly as nice or patient. And I’m not that patient to begin with.
  • My hair is naturally a mousy, dirty blond on top and fades to a darker mousy brown on bottom. I get blond highlights every 6-8 weeks.
  • I love candy. It makes me happy. Until I swallow it.
  • I have exceedingly high expectations of myself. I have similarly unrealistic expectations of my partner, my colleagues and my friends, which can be unfair and unreasonable.
  • If I don’t remind myself of who I am and what I’m made of, I start to feel like I’m not smart/thin/well dressed/disciplined/athletic/classy enough in new environments and/or certain social circles.
  • When I close my eyes and think of what makes me happy, I picture laughing. Laughing with B, my sisters, my friends, my buddies at work, my uncles B and K…Just laughing.
  • I don’t care much for modern art, minimalist design or post modern architecture. I suppose I’m too much of a romantic, too complicated emotionally to appreciate the simplicity in those things. I like to see struggle, triumph, energy, heart and soul when I look at a painting/sculpture/building.
  • I hate feeling like the fat kind in gym class when I can’t do something (physical) as well as the people I’m with. It happens a lot.
  • I’m not athletic or coordinated by any means, but I am flexible, strong and in the best shape of my life.
  • I miss my Dad a lot.
  • I love music so much – classical, jazz, blues, indie rock, classic rock, etc. I think music gives meaning to otherwise mostly vapid film and television.
  • I will start playing the piano again. I played for years as a child and quit as a teenager. My father promised me I would regret quitting. He was very right, as usual.
  • I also want to learn to play slide guitar. I will learn to play slide guitar.
  • I would like to start singing in a choir again.
  • I don’t have a good singing voice.
  • I don’t regret much in life, but one of my biggest regrets is failing to recognize the value in a close relationship with my older sister earlier on in life. She brings so much to my life now - I wonder what strength we could have brought each other as we grew into teenagers and women, had we had each other’s company and counsel then.
  • I enjoy being alone, as long as it is on my own terms. I want to choose when, where and why I am alone - otherwise I find solitude unsettling. 
  • If I could hold still long enough, I would read for at least an hour a day.
  • I want to learn to sail. I love sailboats. They look like music on water to me. 
  • I adore traveling. B loves to travel too. We’ll go on sabbatical and travel around the US and Europe someday, hopefully soon.
  • I would love to experience agritourism in Italy.
  • I never buy things full price and I try not to spend money on things that aren’t well made and wont last. The more I understand how financially draining having a house, car, family and well balanced social life is, the harder time I have spending money on myself.
  • I can’t get enough of big, floppy, dopey dogs. I especially like ones with very big heads. I think it’s funny when animals have extremities that are entirely out of proportion.
  • I want a Smart car. Only because I know I would laugh every time I got in or out of it.
  • I’ve lived in a city since I was 18. It’s hard for me to imagine a life outside of the city, unless it was on a vineyard in northern Sonoma County, or a ranch in Montana or Colorado. But someone else has to feed the animals at 5 am.
  • I am always sore. To me, a good therapeutic massage is priceless.
  • I prefer feeling hungry over feeling full. I am downright uncomfortable when I am too full.
  • I don’t currently read any newspapers. Not one. Not online, not in print. Very shameful.
  • I love maps. Somehow, my geography is still pathetic.
  • I would have a bunny with floppy ears, if bunnies didn’t poop everywhere.
  • I buy 90% of my clothes and everyday jewelry at J. Crew. Yes, I am that boring.
  • I wish I had a chef to prepare my fruits and vegetables every day. It takes a long time to inspect, wash, chop and prepare as many as I try to eat.
  • If I think I need to change something, I work on it. And I change it. Even if it takes me 10 years.
  • I have no desire to go to Las Vegas – I think there are a million better ways to spend the kind of money you inevitably spend there.
  • I love pizza and ice cream, but preferably on the weekends so I don’t feel guilty.
  • I loved James Frey’s books and I think Oprah was too hard on him. She’s a liar if she claims she has never embellished the truth or passed something off for something it wasn’t.
  • I tend not to enjoy highly acclaimed films – the kind you’re “supposed” to love. I still see them all sooner or later. Because I’m “supposed” to.
  • I’m slowly learning to be a good cook. I’ve always been an excellent baker. My forte is scraping the bowl.
  • On average, I do 5-7 things at once while at work, and 3-5 at once while at home.
  • I spend too much time at the farmers market. I love the colors and smells and energy of the place.
  • I like really bad TV. We’re talking the old 90210, the new 90210 and Keeping up with the Kardashians. Yeah, that’s right. I make time for that, but I don’t read the newspapers. Shameful.
  • My favorite places in the world are the Belizean cayes, Tuscany, Eastern Australia and San Francisco.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets Part 2 - What Are Your Dirty Little Secrets?

As life became increasingly complicated after college and I was forced to tackle career, relationship, family, and physical challenges, I found myself needing the counsel of women who had faced similar challenges more and more often. I was new to San Francisco and had only 1 friend I felt I could trust and rely on – the one I moved here with. I missed the security of a big network of friends living within a few blocks and was apprehensive about being able to duplicate those friendships - ones that now consisted of phone calls and emails and very occasional visits. I was stubborn about it for too long – hoping the new friendships would come to me easily as social matters always had. It took a lot of solo walks along the Embarcadero and tearful calls home to remember the true importance of building a strong network of female friends where you are– one comprised of the invaluable confidants that are needed to survive as a woman. You may never be able to duplicate the friendships you have in your youth, but you can certainly build ones equally as precious, and they often come once you accept that it isn’t about finding the same type of people, but the same kind of friendship.

I finally admitted that I was going to have to put myself out there if I wanted to make it happen. I started talking to more and more women, with increasing candor as time went on, and found that so many of them were looking for the same brand of friendship I was looking for – one with a level of honesty, openness and truthfulness. One that brings comfort and reassurance and maybe even makes you feel a little less alone when you’re hovering on the edge.

Once I realized how eager most women were to confide in someone about their “dirty little secrets” I started to think about what a shame it is that we haven’t found a way to be more open and honest with each other in the 50 years since our grandmothers were coming of age. I believe that there is so much value in being real with each other, and I know now how many other women feel the same. And yet our instincts keep us from doing so most of the time…

I started asking women why they keep a lot of their bigger secrets close to the vest – below are the top 3 answers I encountered. What do you think?

Shame. A lot of women are ashamed of what we think, feel and do when we’re overwhelmed or falling apart. Or we’re ashamed of the things we do behind closed doors to keep it together. Perfect example: “Send the baby back syndrome.” I’ve spoken to so many women - with and without postpartum - that have had moments, or days even where they question whether or not they were meant to be a mother. I am told it is hard as hell in the beginning and you question your instincts, abilities and fate as a parent over and over again. From what I’ve heard in the past two years, it is not uncommon to panic and think you’ve made a mistake in having a baby at all, or think you might have waited too long to do so. And it isn’t rare to dread you’ve had children for the wrong reasons altogether. Some women are apparently honest about these experiences, and some women aren’t. And to be fair, I’m sure there are a few out there that don’t experience any major bumps in the “mommy road.” But those that do, are often too ashamed to talk about their feelings with their husbands or mothers because they are convinced that simply thinking “Can I send it back?” makes them a horrible person and a bad mother. Well it doesn’t. It makes you human. And trust me, your sons and daughters would most likely choose an authentic, compassionate mother over one that encourages false pretenses and acts as if everything is ok when its not.

Judgment. More people cheat in marriages than we would all like to know or even think about. But regardless of how unfortunately common infidelity has become, most women still have a terribly hard time discussing it when their own relationships have fallen victim. I have a friend whose mother said she knew that her husband cheated on and off for the duration of their 25 year marriage, but she never spoke up because she was convinced her children would find a way to blame her; and she said they had always favored their charming father to their abrupt, strict mother anyway. Another (unmarried) woman explained that she had always been warned of her (younger) boyfriend’s philandering ways for so long that she couldn’t bear to talk about it when he finally fulfilled everyone’s expectations. She didn’t want to expose herself to “I told you so” after “I told you so” when she was already devastated enough.

Ammunition. Because true transparency is so rare, and often even frowned upon, our first instinct is to bury the feelings we question are valid, rational or socially acceptable. When the unthinkable happens in our marriages, our homes, and our careers - we tell some abridged version of the truth because it is often easier to tell and gives people less ammunition in the future. Mistakes and failures are hard enough to endure, so burying the truth behind them is safer than giving people the opportunity to tear us down or criticize us. You tell the whole story, you expose yourself to attacks.

So….what are your dirty little secrets? And if you don’t dare tell,  why do you hold your cards so close to the vest?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets

As twenty-something women, we live our lives wedged between the generation that raised us to believe it is unsavory, unladylike and unacceptable to divulge details of personal and family matters; and a generation that has buried any concept of privacy under social media networks, twitter feeds and explicit reality television shows.  Our mothers and grandmothers - the same women that shared not much more than household tips and baking secrets with each other in their day - must choke on their homemade cookies when they see strangers marveling over tampon technology and erectile dysfunction cures in between features on the evening news.  Somewhere in the last century, a “don’t ask, don’t tell” society has evolved into a “please ask, please tell,” one where full disclosure is well compensated to say the least.  But regardless of shifting social paradigms, two things seem to remain the same for women: many of us tend to say what we believe people want to hear, and even more of us try to be something we think we’re supposed to be.

To me, it seems as if women just went from painting falsified pictures of perfection with their carefully chosen words to portraying processed, sensational versions of ourselves across varied mediums.  Somehow, all this media-centric “progress” has changed how women express themselves in public realms without changing how we express ourselves and communicate in our personal lives - where change matters the most.  Yes, twenty-something and thirty-something women more willingly discuss constipation and orgasms than our mothers did, and the generation that follows us eagerly reveals much more, but where does that get any of us if we still can't be open and honest about the issues that have significant impact on our happiness and well being?

We readily talk about matters of vanity and prefer to focus on celebrities who bear their bodies and souls to the cameras, but many of us hesitate too long before turning to our mothers, sisters and friends and bearing enough of our own souls to get the help, advice and reinforcement we need.  What are we afraid of?  Why is it so easy to skate along the surface of who we are as women and so hard for us to expose our vulnerable selves and our most harrowing emotional experiences? What makes being unabashedly honest about motherhood, relationships, body image issues, mental health, and anything profoundly challenging so taboo? When did our real lives and real problems become dirty little secrets?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Bar Method

I was a chubby baby, a plump kid, and then a thin adolescent for about 15 minutes - until I got hungry. As I evolved into a young woman, I grew into an overweight adult. Through the years, I managed to lose some weight here and there, but always gained it back thanks to gross amounts of misinformation garnered from worthless magazines, a complete lack of self control around anything white and/or sweet, a weird shame/guilt complex, and a sluggish meat and potatoes Irish metabolism. Oh and a little bit of closet eating. I had just started to shift my focus to accepting the body I was apparently stuck with and was reaching for the white flag when my best friend suggested we try a new kind of workout class together. She had heard it was a little painful, but required no athleticism and was very effective. “Self-inflicted torture for klutzes?” I thought, “I’m in!”

By this point, I had tried everything from the classic cardio and weight training combo to boot camps, kick boxing, spinning, Tae Bo, yoga, swimming, group aerobics, walking, hiking, and combinations of some or all of the aforementioned. I had sweat and wheezed and stumbled my way through every form of exercise I could manage and read countless books about nutrition, diet, metabolism, fitness and body image issues. I was uncomfortable enough often enough to approach slimming down from a million different angles between the age of 11 and 26. And everything I tried, I tried damn hard. (Or so I thought.)

We went to our first Bar Method class in June of 2008 and although it felt terribly unnatural to force my body into graceful ballet positions and thrust my hips at the girl in front of me like I was in a bad 80’s MTV video, there were so many other things about the class that intrigued me and made me feel comfortable enough to come back and give it another go. I recognized a few of the positions and stretches from yoga and Pilates and had long admired the refined art of ballet – but the way the class flowed, the constant movement and quick pace, the application of concepts from the aforementioned, were all entirely unique and certainly new to me. The room was full of women of all shapes and sizes and ages, each of them boasted a different level of experience. Together they painted a picture of the potential stages of corporal transformation if the Bar Method became a practice, and their presence made newcomers, regulars and experts alike feel at ease. The teacher, who was almost irritatingly beautiful, her form perfectly long and lean and compact, delivered constant reassurance and gently provided constructive criticism throughout the hour class. As she led us through sets of lifting, pushups, planks, dips and calf raises I looked at my girlfriend and mouthed, “What did we get ourselves into?” In between sets of thigh work, I started peering over at the door longingly.

We went through every major muscle group and fatigued it to the point of shaking, burning and sometimes collapse, with painfully controlled movements and endless tiny pulses in first and second position and all sorts of positions I had never seen. Just when we thought it was over, the teacher, whose perfect butt was our only inspiration at that point, guided us into seat work. I wanted to slap the delicate features off her face and go home for some ice cream and a nap. My best friend and I rolled our eyes at each other and shook our heads in unison. Without uttering a word, we both knew the other was thinking, “She’s got to be joking.”

Within 36 hours of the 1 hour class, my entire body was surprisingly sore and countless muscles I had never worked very hard before or didn’t even know I had, were screaming. My thighs and butt ached for days and I couldn’t lift a pencil without wincing. I knew right away that anything that made you that sore had to be extremely effective. I went back a few days later, once I could put my underwear on without falling over from the pain of leaning on one leg and glut too long. I kept going back more and more frequently each week for the next two years.

I saw a difference within 3 weeks and although I feared it was just wishful thinking at first, the continued evolution from consistent practice confirmed that the transformation began almost immediately. I lost about 20 pounds of fat within 6 months of starting the class. There is no doubt in my mind that I would still be at the same weight I was in June 2008 if my best friend hadn’t brought me to that Bar Method class.

I always joked about feeling like the fat kid in gym class when faced with team sports or new physical challenges that required any coordination. What few people understood was that that sensation was less about actually feeling fat, and more about feeling weak, uncoordinated and unable to make my body do what I wanted it to do. The Bar Method has made me feel physically strong and able, and because that is something I can feel in every muscle of my body and quantify in pushups and crunches in class every week, it’s something even I can’t take away from myself. For me, that has been the most powerful and profoundly significant result. Feeling strong and confident enough to rise to new physical challenges for the first time in my life is amazing. Don’t get me wrong; the physical results are of course wonderful, but the novelty of smaller dress sizes and shorter shorts wears off quickly for someone who knows little about maintaining positive body image. But the novelty of feeling like the strong, determined, tough girl in gym class won’t ever wear off.

Monday, May 3, 2010


I hope that my posts have never given the impression that I am more put together, wise or sensible than I really am. I am assuming that the admissions of vanity, immaturity and irrational behavior balance out any impressions of composure, but in light of some recent undue compliments, I still feel I should make a few things clear.

Although I have my brighter days, I certainly have dark ones too. I still throw tantrums. I am a grown woman with a career and a wonderful relationship and quite a bit to be thankful for, but sometimes I cry about nothing at all. I found someone who loves me in a way I didn’t think existed, but I sometimes I come home from a bad day at work and take things out on him – even though he has never taken much of anything out on me. I have days where I focus on the inadequacy or imperfection in completely inconsequential aspects of my life, until I remember how ridiculous I’m being – but sometimes that can take a few minutes. Or hours. Or if I’m being really difficult, a few days. I often forget how lucky I am. I have a tendency to move through my days at a pace which has both accelerated things and greased the downward spirals, so to speak. I’m human and I actually have moments where I wonder if there really is a little “crazy” in me. I fear that irrational part of me may grow bigger someday if I’m not terribly cautious.

It’s important to know that my most optimistic posts - the ones characterized by a positive outlook on life -usually come on the heels of a struggle or rough patch. More often than not, they are the calm after a storm, a concrete representation of another lesson learned the hard way. For example, “Fish-face Lip Marks and Tiny Fingerprints” was written after I finished crying for an hour about my sister and her family leaving, even though I’m going to see them two times in the next two months.

You see, many of my posts are born of a selfish need for re-evaluation, a need for some serious reflection. Writing is one of the only ways I know how to bring myself back down to earth when I feel particularly sad or frustrated. So when I write about the importance of finding and keeping perspective, or finding beauty and happiness in places we often fail to look, I’m really just reinforcing those concepts for myself. I’m not always able to find the silver lining on the clouds that come my way - that would just be suspect. I sure as hell don’t learn a valuable lesson from every single little mistake I make and I don’t always remember to apply the lessons I do learn when similar challenges present themselves. And I don’t actually keep a positive, happy-go-lucky perspective every minute of every day –that just isn’t possible. And for better or worse, that just isn’t who I am.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Moose Knuckle

Sometimes I put my pants on in the morning and notice that they feel a bit tighter than I would like them to.  My immediate reaction is always the same - something along the lines of, "F*ck."  I try to reign in any negative thoughts about my apparent weight gain, lack of self control, etc. before my mind gets away from me, but usually that feeling of disappointment and those too-tight pants are on my mind all day.

I walk to work thinking, "Are they tighter in the thigh too? Oh God. They are tighter in the thigh!" I sit down at my desk and think, "Now I know nothing spilled over in the love handle area last time I wore these pants. Sh*t. I've totally put on a few pounds. Damn baking!" Sometimes I'll try to rationalize my way away from self loathing, because that is never a fun way to start one's day. If I'm in an otherwise good mood, I'll consider that forces other than my own weak will may be to blame for my too-tight pants. I'll think "Hmmm, I did just dry clean these pants," or, "I guess it's about that time in my cycle when I tend to get a little bloated."

I get mad at myself, go through a little denial, get mad at myself again and then I usually come back to a more rational place where I shake my head at myself and feel a little ashamed that I've wasted so much time and energy being concerned with the fit of my pants and whether or not I've gained a few pounds. I mean who cares? (Only I do.) Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? (No, obviously not.) Do I not trust that I wont turn back into an overweight, squishy, chubby little kid? (This isn't a good indication that I have any faith in myself.) Are there not more consequential things I should concern myself with? (Absolutely.) Am I really this vain? (Yes.)

I always try to shake off all the negativity, maybe with a lap around the office or a few minutes of fresh air. But when I get up from my desk, I inevitably notice the pants are undoubtedly too tight. And if I'm really lucky, they give me a moose knuckle. Now that is no way to start the day.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Fish-Face Lip Marks and Tiny Fingerprints

In the past few years, one of the things I seem to struggle with most is the passage of time. The older I get, the more I have to manage in my day, the more I have to juggle and overcome and balance, the more I get the sense that time is like the leaves that fell from the trees around our little red house in Connecticut when I was a child. There was a crab apple tree and a dogwood in the front yard, and a gallery of oaks between the driveway and the backyard. The combination created an opus of shapes and colors in fall, and a breathtaking dance unfolded in front of our eyes in October and November. I still remember the scent of the earth slowly becoming more fragrant as the trees began to let go of the crisp, brittle leaves that hung on by a thread and the lifeless ones formed a blanket that slowly melted into it.

The evolution from fat, colorful rainbows of golden browns, fiery reds and everything in between to a stark absence of anything bright felt so dramatic that it was almost draining. It seemed that all that was left when the leaves were gone was cold. That yearly cycle yielded a similar feeling that the passage of time does occasionally for me now. It can be sad and frustrating, the lack of control infuriating. It is inevitable though, as is the increasingly rapid rate at which time passes as we age.

I think the only defense against that sensation is to appreciate the magic that is behind it all, to try to feel the passage of time a little differently, to slow the pace if even for a moment, just enough to really hear the music you’re listening to on your iPod, or to really listen to your lover when he tells you about his day. Like searching for color in the barren trees in early winter, the passage of time can be beautiful and almost poetic, if we let it be. It isn’t easy to remember how much joy can be drawn from slowing down when you’re going 90 miles per hour, though. I too often forget what I know very well by now: the best moments in life are the ones when you are truly present. Birthday cake tastes far superior when you close your eyes for a bite or two and feel the icing thick on your tongue. My nephews laugh sounds just like heaven if I ignore for a moment the sound of my phone ringing or vibrating with work emails. B’s smile shines brighter when the computer and television aren’t tugging at the corner of my eyes.

When you’re a child, the ability to linger on the steps and watch the leaves waltz across the breeze is a luxury taken for granted – as an adult we rush past these moments and move on to the next ones without realizing what we’re missing. We’re constantly in pursuit of some “free” time, foolishly ignoring that “free” time surrounds us in the moments we skip over on our way to the gym or office or daycare.

It is a never-ending challenge to even remember that the leaves are falling around you, and it is often far easier to lament over the need for raking and tending than it is to stop and listen to the crunch under your shoes or the smell of the earth at your feet. My sister and her children were just in town for almost a week – time that came and went so quickly that I didn’t realize they had already left until almost two days later. I wish I could bring them back to sit with me on this quiet, rainy Sunday…but instead I will savor the moments I did have while they were here. I will leave my nephews fish-face lip marks on the glass and my niece’s tiny finger prints in the wax polished coffee table. Because those are leaves I would like to watch waltz across the breeze for just a little bit longer.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Higher Education

Most people go off to college looking for a good time - and in a city like Boston, which seems at times overwhelmed by its collegiate population, God knows it’s all too easy to find. There are 50 plus institutions of higher education in the city, (one of which I attended,) and when they’re all simultaneously in session, it’s as if the whole place is bathed in youth and sex and naiveté. Young men and women dive into a murky sea of possibility overflowing with post-adolescent fishies who attend classes and float across grassy quads by day, and bob up and down from keg party to bottom bunk to frat house by night. They strip themselves of their pasts, their family baggage and high school identities and blend in, standardize. I remember having the sense that at least 1/3 of the city was perpetually in search of a party, a beer, and a body to keep the bed warm. Somehow, I was fortunate enough to find something wonderfully different in my own search. Something in addition, that is, to a bit of a binge drinking habit, a closet full of regretful animal skin clothing and pictures too indefensible to show even my future husband.

At first glance, our individual backgrounds, family lives, interests and personalities in general indicated that we were more likely to become enemies than best friends. But the chemistry we shared from the moment we all laughed together over cheap alcohol and cold pizza was uncanny. We were 7 wildly different people from towns throughout the Northeast that although not far from each other, were most certainly worlds apart. With Greek, Italian, Irish, French, Portuguese, Scottish, and Austrian coursing through our veins; we could not have looked and sounded more unalike. We came to college from private schools, public schools and catholic schools and grew up wealthy, poor and everything in between. Despite our differences, or perhaps because of them, we grew to be the closest of confidants and most reliable partners in crime thanks to a never-ending supply of embarrassment, countless shame-filled mornings and enough alcohol to drown a small village.

To this day, I have a difficult time putting my finger on exactly what it was that led us to open our hearts and minds enough to get the ball rolling. How did 7 kids that may not have even spoken to each other in high school end up being the kind of friends that screw you later in life by setting impossible standards? Was it because we shared those pivotal moments in which we thought we were going to be arrested, evicted, or fired? Or was it because we were always there when one of us thought her heart was broken for good?

Whatever led us down that path, we ended up better off for traveling it. Once we realized we could trust and rely on each other, that new found sense of security unhinged something in every single one of us. We gave each other the strength to face demons few of us had the courage to admit were even there before we mad met. There was a veritable spring cleaning of all the skeletons we had previously kept in our own closets. We divulged all our dirty little secrets, greatest weaknesses and vulnerabilities, cried over the battles we fought with ourselves and our families, told stories we had always feared would scare people off or make them want to run away. When we saw no one was going anywhere, passing judgment, or using any of it against anyone else, we became a strong impenetrable unit.

I think we were so insulated by our unencumbered acceptance of each other, that we grew to be even more blissfully ignorant to the reality than your average college students. We formed a safety net so tightly woven, that we were dangerously unafraid to fall as long as we lived together. We indulged each other over and over and supported every bad decision – or at least made excuses for the worst of them. It was phenomenal really – this group of intelligent, strong, opinionated and very stubborn women threw all rationality and reason to the wind in the interest of offering a kind of support that, for a long time, I feared I would never experience again. I realize now that it was that profound acceptance and blind loyalty to each other that made our transitions into adulthood and true independence that much more difficult. We afforded each other the luxury of living in our own world for over 4 years, rarely did anything but stand by each other, laugh and have the time of our lives.

I never realized what a double edged sword that was until a recent reunion in Boston. We ended a long weekend of 18 year old partying and 40 year old hangovers on the couch with photographs, scrap books and stories scattered across our laps and falling in between our legs and the couch cushions. Everything has moved so rapidly in the years since that wonderfully chaotic and comedic stage in our lives, I had forgotten exactly how nuts I had been. As I flipped through pages covered in vulgar but hysterical quotes and pictures I hope are never seen by outsiders, familiar tears of laughter rolled down my cheeks and that recognizable ache curled around my ribs from the constant contractions that come with uncontrollable laughter. I turned to the girls and said, “Wow. Why didn’t any of you tell me that NONE of this was ok?”

They all looked at me a little confused and didn’t even bother to respond to my question. I should have known that in those days, any honesty which might have mildly resembled criticism or judgment (regardless of how founded) simply wasn’t in the repertoire.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Do you suffer from inadequate eyelashes?"

One evening a few months ago, I was cooking an egg-white omelet at home and had the television on in the background. The faint sound of a recognizable female voice went virtually unnoticed-until Brooke Shield’s seemingly ageless face appeared on the screen. She was dressed in a crisp, plain white ensemble and surrounded by unremarkable looking (but very happy!) people in a stark, modern minimalist room. The general lack of visual stimulus in the background forced my eyes and attention to the only source of color on the television: Brooke’s face. I thought to myself “God, she looks good even with imperfection-magnifying HD technology!” And then she opened her mouth.

In a tone which I’m sure was meant to sound concerned but came off rather condescending, Brooke asked, “Do you suffer from inadequate eyelashes?” I shook my head and thought, “Bitch! Are you serious!?”
I stood there, arms crossed, spatula in hand, and listened as Brooke shared all the details of this purported effective solution, sure to end all suffering over traumatic eyelash inadequacy issues with only a few freakish side effects. All I could think was, “That’s dirty. Its just so dirty. They’re going for the eyelashes now!?”

Its commercials like these, (admittedly in conjunction with other sources of scrutiny, many of which I endorse by purchasing – i.e. rag mags, or watching – i.e. 90210,) these blatant manipulations of our physical insecurities, that have forced me to at one time or another to examine and criticize my cellulite, tummy rolls, formerly (as in at 11 years old) perky breasts, double chin, back of the arm flab, funny shaped little butt, acne, huge earlobes, drumstick-shaped oh my god they’re chafing in the summer heat thighs, facial peach fuzz (a new treat,) uneven skin tone, thinning hair (on my head,) premature age spots, sun spots, freckles, spill over the bra even when you’re reaching for something on the very top shelf back fat, liver lips, excess tissue on the end of my nose, overlapping two front teeth, yellowing of the teeth, shifting of the formerly straight teeth, love handles, wrinkles, knee fat, excessive skin/tissue in the arm crease and Buddha belly.

These lovely commercials and print ads are major ingredients in what must be a completely irresistible recipe for self-loathing, because women (including myself) just keep on mixing up big old batches of it. Start with one cup of "is there something wrong with my/face/body/eyelashes?" add a drop or two of any useless beauty product, throw in the pre-requisite conviction, "I know THIS will be just the thing to make me feel better about myself!" bake at 350 for a few weeks and you still end up with a batch of "something still isn't quite right."

Do you know why? Because we spend money most of us don’t have, time none of us have and energy we should be using for other things looking in the wrong place for self-assurance, confidence and a positive self-image. I know now that I won’t feel better about myself, (or any closer to looking like a younger Brooke for that matter,) if I do ask my eye doctor for some of that magical eyelash serum. I might not be 100% at peace with every inch of my body yet (or even close,) but at least I’ve learned I have a better chance at finding that peace inside myself than I do in a closet full of overpriced beauty products.

I went back to my eggs and thought, “Step off my eyelashes Brooke. I don’t care how long and fluffy yours look, you’re not convincing me that ANYTHING ELSE on this body is ‘inadequate’. And besides, I have to pay my colorist $160 tomorrow to cover up the dark roots tainting my fake blond ‘do.’ Oh and I need a new $540 Bar Method class pack this week. And a new tube of Roche-de-Posay. But those things are totally different.”

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I find that I enjoy the weeks between mid-November and early January even more as an adult than I did as a child. I owe much of that to B – someone with whom every celebration has a new found joy. Together we have created a magical approach to Christmastime that incorporates our favored family traditions and rituals more typically present in childhood memories. It is full of the simple pleasures we are often hesitant to indulge in as adults and infused with a version of our youthful, (and at times sickly sweet,) love for each other that is unencumbered by reality. It’s terribly cheesy and wonderfully cliché. (I would undoubtedly find it nauseating if I were an observer rather than a participant.)

Every year we anticipate the commencement of the festivities like small children - and on the tail end are always hesitant to take down the tree and let the holiday cheer slip out the door with it. We decorate our tree over a few days – not because a tremendous amount of precision is required - but because we have created a ritual that takes as much time and storytelling as an Irish wake. We start at the bottom of the tree with B’s strand of plastic “candle” lights, (“These were made before you were born honey,”) and add the ornaments we have amassed separately and as a couple, sharing memories and anecdotes that are represented by each decoration as we move around the tree. I make B tell me a story for every third ornament or so, and go back to the tree in the weeks that follow to point out those left unaddressed in the initial days. “What about this one? How old were you when your Mom gave you this little red cat? Did you make this one in school?”

We schedule dinners, ice skating, and cocktail hours with our friends and extended family throughout the month, and make a point to see everyone in San Francisco that we hold near and dear to our hearts before travelling to see our immediate families. We visit Nob Hill at least once each year to view the intricate gingerbread masterpieces and towering Christmas trees, the latter always drowning in gilt trimmings and miles of velvet ribbon. We wade through throngs of WASPs all a-buzz with pre Grace Cathedral concert excitement to admire the Clark Griswold style lights that drip off the trees in Huntington Park. We bake Christmas cookies and then freeze them to be removed one or two – ok, maybe 4 - at a time and eaten under the tree with tea or hot coco while watching “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” (B has asked me to specify that this is “the one that features “Heatmiser” and “Coldmiser.””) We get down on the floor with fleece blankets a few times a week just to look up at our tree while we talk about our day or plans for the coming weeks. We see one man Christmas plays with my uncle in tiny art house theatres and go to choral concerts in awe-inspiring Cathedrals where honeyed voices slide down the aisles and seep out the stained glass windows. We see everything and everyone we love in San Francisco under the glow of fairy lights, smile through cabernet stained lips, and laugh over sticky toffee pudding in our favorite restaurants.

The days just before and after Christmas are filled with the sound of my sister’s laughter, warm, sweet hugs from my tiny niece, and healthy doses of alcohol induced sibling repartee. They involve fiercely competitive games of scrabble, brisk walks on cold afternoons in South Carolina, and an endless pursuit of my 1 ½ year old nephew’s affection. My father sits by the fireplace in his chair with an open book that mostly serves as merely an accessory, as his gaze is more often turned to his children playing on the floor with his grandchildren rather than to the words on the pages. I find contentment in battling over the Irish chocolates, remote control, or spot next to my niece on the couch, and that kind of happiness is matched only with the receipt of an unsolicited kiss from my nephew.

The season is a celebratory circuit of sorts - full of gluttonous indulgences, beautiful food and wine and great company, and so many moments that make you think, “This is what life is supposed to be about.” I always feel such a void when all the trimmings are packed away and twinkling lights no longer dance across storefronts, down lamp poles and through my home. As an adult, I now realize that the sadness felt when Christmastime has passed is not due to the absence of a fine-looking tree or upbeat Christmas carols playing everywhere you go. It is due to the absence of that celebratory state of mind that allows us to let go just enough to see everything we have to be thankful for quite clearly, and to truly appreciate and enjoy all of it.

It is sometimes more natural and most certainly more common to focus on all that is lacking, complicated, or cumbersome in our lives. Christmastime encourages us to do the opposite - and so we grow attached to that cheerful state of mind and long for it after it has slipped away. But I finally realized that even when the sweet smell of gingerbread is gone from our homes and the holiday specials have disappeared from the evening lineup, we can still celebrate each other, celebrate our blessings and acknowledge all that is wonderful in our lives. We simply don’t do these things enough. We should fight to hold on to even just a little bit of that merriment come the grey, muddled months of winter. There is nothing wrong with childlike anticipation and enjoyment. If anything, we need to celebrate life more and more as we get older. We need to remember to honor our friends and family with little gestures, big family dinners, or seemingly silly rituals once a month or even once a week. We simply need to remember more often that it does not have to be Christmastime to celebrate life.